What A Hunter Has Learned As The Year Winds Down
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Why not celebrate your holiday season by remembering what you’ve learned out in the field. Check out this story from our correspondent Jeff Lund:
BY JEFF LUND
Yesterday, Facebook told me that last year at this time I was catching salmon on my fly rod and that my buddy Zack caught a steelhead.
I haven’t been fly fishing in almost three months and Facebook has repeatedly reminded me of how I’ve allowed hunting to supplant fishing as the way I spend most of my hours afield. What a difference a year makes.
I have been so distracted by hunting that it hasn’t even really occurred to me to fish. It’s not that I don’t like fishing or don’t want to fish anymore, but in my effort to go cow free, I can’t get enough of being out looking for bucks.
The more time I’ve spent hunting, the more I’ve learned, and for a dude who has only been hunting for six seasons, I have a long way to go.
With that in mind, here’s what I’ve learned so far in 2018 – stuff I’m not ashamed to admit, because most growth is stunted because people don’t want to admit they don’t know stuff. Especially hunters and anglers. We’re a stubborn breed.
SOMETIMES, STAY SILENT
It sounded like a doe in distress was charging through the woods. Seriously. I was terrified. The tone was frantic, unrelenting (a short call every two seconds) and covering ground. I don’t know what this dude was trying to do. I sat still and heard a deer crashing through the brush away from the call. It made me wonder if a call can have an opposite effect in areas of high traffic.
The following week I went there, I sat and didn’t call. I wanted to see what would happen if I was quiet and patient, letting deer run their usual program. Boom. Three-by-three.
It could have been luck, but since I know the spot had seen heavy traffic and the deer were being called too heavily, I decided to refrain and ended up with meat for the freezer. You can’t just blow a call and expect deer to come running. Volume, tone and frequency are so important.
FREEZING GAME MEAT
I used to freeze backstrap presliced, which was stupid because more surface of the meat was exposed to cold. Dumb. This year I cut each backstrap into thirds and froze them. I know this is a no-brainer to many – something that would go without saying – but I’m not very smart.
I also learned that this went incredibly well with an avocado Dijon dressing.
GEAR BREAKS, RIPS
This is also a no-brainer, but I realized the importance of making sure what I was wearing matched the intended surroundings. In the spring I rolled a black bear up away from the tide, knees scraping against barnacled rocks, but my new First Lite merino/nylon pants were unscathed.
It was a great test to the durability of a quality product. I was walking around in the alpine in the same pants this past August and caught a leg on a broken buckbrush branch. My leg was going forward, so I had no way of stopping in time. It caught the cloth and tore.
Try to slide down shale and your Gore-Tex pants will likely rip. Make twisting cuts with a replaceable Havalon knife blade and it will likely break. Walk through the tangled brush of Southeast Alaskan alpine in merino pants and they might tear. It happens.
PLAY THE WEATHER
After hot temperatures on opening day and the next, and no buck sightings even pre-dawn, a buddy of mine from California and I decided to get off the mountain, regroup and head back up during the rain that was forecast. We started up in the rain and got probably half an hour from hypothermia, but we wanted to get on top of the mountain as the weather broke.
Not that afternoon, or the next morning. We wanted to be there when the storm died. We were, it did, and the deer popped. It worked out perfectly. We hiked up in the rain, which meant we were wet on the outside and slick with sweat on the inside.
It was miserable. We dumped our camping stuff and stayed in the same clothes because we didn’t want to change into dry stuff in the rain. So we completed the 200 feet of elevation gain with light packs and dripping gear. The rain stopped and we glassed into a bowl, becoming colder and colder thanks to our lack of movement. Within 20 minutes of the rain stopping, deer emerged. Cody waited for the wind to die to take a 280-yard shot at a feeding three-by-three.
I worked my way around the ridge to the opposite side of the bowl to intercept a stud fork that I thought might feed over.
We got them both.
PLAY THE WEATHER, PART II
August is alpine season. Late October is the start of rut. Between is a dormant period of bucks in timber not willing to move. That’s what I thought. The vegetation on mountaintops looked like it was close to dead, and who likes to eat a brown salad? But the weather still felt like August.
I went into the alpine in mid-September and had a doe bust me when I had three bucks at 40 yards. I started asking around. A buddy of mine got a buck at the tree line halfway up a mountain in mid-October a few years ago. He got a buck with a bow on top of a mountain in mid-September this year.
A student of mine reported bucks in the alpine well into the “dormant period” I thought had started when August ended. Maybe it was just this year, or maybe I had to pay more attention to the weather than the calendar. ASJ
Editor’s note: Jeff Lund is a freelance writer from Ketchikan. His podcast The Mediocre Alaskan chronicles his struggle to be a better Alaskan. It is available on iTunes and Soundcloud. His book, Going Home, a memoir about hunting and fishing in Alaska, is available from Amazon.